In the second instalment of ITV1’s Titanic mini-series it’s the turn of money rather than sexual morality to take centre stage.
There’s less airtime devoted to class and morality-conscious women cat-fighting each other verbally and more given over to pompous corporate types bullying their more idealistic craftsmen brothers.
Irish Sectarian conflict rears its head in the scenes of angry Belfast crowds booing because the ship’s engineer, Jim Maloney (Peter McDonald), is Catholic. Even more than in last week’s opening episode, society’s problems are shown to be focussed on the ship. But though we’re given an over-view of the finance and politics of the day it doesn’t feel like a history lesson, more like an illustration of how seemingly-trivial decisions motivated by profit and showing off can cost lives.
There’s White Star, the ocean-liner company, bullying everyone from the ship’s designer to the captain out of sheer corporate arrogance, the captain then defying White Star by sailing the ship too fast, and so on. Where last-week’s bitching was merely comical, this week it adds up to something more worrying.
Casual asides build up a sense of the ominous: the ship’s binoculars have gone missing, the captain remarks that he’s never seen a sea so calm (a sign of drifting ice, we now know)…
Despite all this, scriptwriter Fellowes still manages to make a surprise out of the iceberg’s first appearance (its second if you count last week’s debut). This week it looms out of the night at Batley’s (Toby Jones) lowest moment, like a materialisation of his despair, after he’s said too much about his marriage to the captain (David Calder) and is crying on deck.
As usual there’s a nice balance between characters you laugh at and ones you laugh with, like the caustic Muriel Batley (Maria Doyle Kennedy) who when told she must make her way up to the second class deck says, ‘Let’s make sure even our drowning is second class.’
Saying this, the episode has its slow moments. There’s more than one scene of characters bonding with each other on deck by telling each other what the audience already knows rather than advancing the story with new revelations. But the climax in which the Batleys realise their time is up and find it in themselves to finally let go of the past and enjoy the few precious moments left to them is genuinely poignant.
So far the lateral structure of Fellowes’s script seems to be working, with the narrative replaying the same time period while covering genuinely new ground.
Let’s hope next week’s episode gives us an equally fresh take on the tragedy.
Aired at 9pm on Sunday 1st April 2012 on ITV1.
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